Marion Coutts’ exhibition at Tintype flourishes given a commitment to the art of seeing. The clue is in the title. Taken from her award-winning book ‘The Iceberg’ (2014) she describes seeing as ‘an action like aiming or hitting’. It’s a physical jolt which necessitates all sensors on alert. Just after the opening, Jillian Knipe discussed Coutts’ first show in eight years with the artist, reflecting on past works, sources and possible contexts.
There seems to be a sense of fluidity in your book. Yet in this exhibition, the edges are clear cut, as if the book describes a time when everything was blurred, while the exhibition is the stark aftermath. Can you say something about that?
I haven’t quite worked out what the relation of the book is to the show. The book’s written in a number of sections and some of those sections are written like descriptions. Like you’re writing a photograph.
I’ve never shown photographs before where you make an image and it’s concrete. It’s a distinct, media-related object but I was also thinking about different ways of manifesting images. And alongside the show, there are these very short texts I wrote in the zine.
You spoke just now about an image as concrete and in your book you describe feelings and ideas as objects – as if you think in forms. So whether it’s a sculpture or a photograph or a drawing, it seems your work is about objects. Do you think that’s the case?
My thinking is all quite object related. Previously, I would have said I was a sculptor who made things in various media but essentially the physical object was at the heart of the work. In moving image, I was always very concerned with the object nature of the piece. I was always trying to talk about things, objects and form.
The very last piece I made in 2008 was ‘26 Things’ for The Wellcome Collection which was literally 26 artefacts from the collection shot for tangibility, weight, feel. Like the little texts in the zine, they’re very specific, like words in a sentence or the length of the sentence or the formal shape of the thing that you’re trying to say.
I also wanted to talk about doubling.
There’s always been lots of doubling. The idea that the work isn’t one but two, or embeds its opposite. For instance, ‘The Middle Distance’ is a doubling piece which connects to the idea of de-focusing. But it’s completely blank. There’s little information because it’s a rubbed out blackboard.
It reminded me of two coloured circles that overlap to make a different colour in the middle. But of course there’s no colour potential because they’re black. You could chalk up a new surface so there is a possibility of something. It’s not the end.
They’re also cartoonish, like looking through binoculars with the lens cap on. They were made at a time when I was making quite a lot of work in pairs and I think about them very formally. ‘The Middle Distance’ is from 2007 and everything else is new but I thought it would activate something in connection to other works. Particularly in connection to the strip curtain.
Speaking of the line, in ‘The Iceberg’ you seem quite annoyed with lines. You actually refer to the line as a weakness when describing two points versus three points ...
You could say that a line between two points is a 2D line and a line between three points is potentially a 3D shape. I’d used strip curtains in a very limited way in 2007, again in pairs. I’m interested in their graphic potential. I’d like to be offered a rather complicated room and to line it to a certain level with blinds. The idea being to make a distinct above and below, where everything below a certain point is drowning. My work doesn’t relate to events I wrote about. I think structurally I would agree, but in terms of specificity, I would say that’s not the case at all.
I thought it was interesting that you seemed very frustrated by lines in your book which were enmeshed with hospital charts. It’s easy to start thinking about Felix Gonzales-Torres’ ‘Bloodworks’ series of the early 1990s and Bridget Riley’s ‘Fall’ (1963). I wondered what you feel about the lines in the exhibition? Because although they seem critical, they really hold half the room together, with the other half held by the circles.
Very much so. It’s true. I have a little sketch from very early on and it has the line strip piece in it ... ‘Library’ was the first piece I had in my head. And it’s really that which triggered a lot of the other work. Again, it’s quite sparse. It’s got these horizontal shelf lines and it’s not black, it’s white.
The collapse of the books in ‘Library’ can definitely be seen in the black lines of ‘Curtain’.
When you have a whole lot of strip lines going around the room they don’t make a wall. It’s much more mobile. Much more fragile.
I hope you don’t mind – ‘Self Portrait of The Artist as a Pole’ - holding up a tent or being a builder?
Yes, a Pole! It was shot when I was in Poland. What happened was that I had a British Council scholarship and had to get a photograph for my student visa. I went to a photographer and when the shot came back I’d been completely airbrushed to look like a Polish woman. My skin is luminous and my eyes are bright. The only thing that’s wrong with me is that I’ve got this incredibly bad haircut. If you peer closely you’ll see I’m looking to the future like a young pioneer.